What Bastiat Might Say to Our Politicians

In a comment on a recent post, Holdren Channels Mr. Burns, commenter C. Andrew (no relation!) linked to a chapter from Frederic Bastiat's Economic Sophisms. Chapter I.7 A Petition is a biting argument from absurdity against protectionism, wherein Bastiat suggests that candlemakers and other industries around artificial lighting are suffering from unfair competition from the sun.

I took particular note of the first two paragraphs. There, Bastiat addresses his mock petition to his fellow members of the French Legislative Assembly in words that could easily, and should be leveled at our politicians and intellectuals of today:
You reject abstract theories and have little regard for abundance and low prices. You concern yourselves mainly with the fate of the producer. You wish to free him from foreign competition, that is, to reserve the domestic market for domestic industry.

We come to offer you a wonderful opportunity for applying your—what shall we call it? Your theory? No, nothing is more deceptive than theory. Your doctrine? Your system? Your principle? But you dislike doctrines, you have a horror of systems, and, as for principles, you deny that there are any in political economy; therefore we shall call it your practice—your practice without theory and without principle. [bold added]
How little things have changed since 1845. Bastiat was writing as his country was rushing headlong toward socialism, and was confronting men who refused to think in principle. We have plenty of that type in government now, and too few Bastiat's to stand up and challenge them.


Brian Fritts said...

I think Bastiat is making a comeback, as I have seen more and more references to him since the election of Obama. I know Russ Roberts over at Cafe Hayek has utlized Bastiat more in his blog and on his Econ Talk podcast.

My personal favorite is his mocking suggestion that France could increase employment by requiring loggers to dull their hatchets so that it will take more loggers to dispatch the same number of trees.

C. August said...

I've noticed his resurgence too. And that logging example has been adopted as official policy by the coercive government-backed unions here in the U.S.

In my post called "Imagining a Mutually Beneficial Labor Union," I quoted Andrew Bernstein's Capitalist Manifesto where he talked of make-work schemes "such as requiring that pipe delivered to construction sites with screw thread already on it, have its end cut off and new screw thread cut on the site."